Multi-Generational Girlfriend Getaway
To a Gulf Coast Barrier Island
Palm Island Resort is located on a pristine barrier island just off the west central Florida mainland, near Port Charlotte. *
By Laura Reiley
Sex in the City certainly elevated the popularity of the chicks-only weekend holiday.
But instead of sitting around with good friends sipping Cosmopolitans, laughing and sharing girl talk, my fun female getaway last fall was a little different.
My story involves my 60-year-old mother, 10-year-old daughter and a carload of beach toys. Our destination was Palm Island, an isolated barrier isle along Florida’s Gulf coast.
Located near Charlotte Harbor, the pristine island is peppered with more than 200 private homes. Thankfully, it remains beneath the radar of the hoards of Florida vacationers.
That said, anyone can enjoy this eco-paradise by booking a stay at the island’s upscale Palm Island Resort (941-697-4800 or www.palmisland.com), 7092 Placida Rd., Cape Haze. Palm Island Resort features 154 one-, two- and three-bedroom villas right on the Gulf, with pricing from $300 to $1,200 nightly.
Palm Island Resort is an oasis of calm and a relaxing Girlfriend Getaway spot.*
Getting to Paradise
Our weekend began with a quick car-ferry ride from Cape Haze. The journey was led by a salty-seadog ferry captain, who was a bit crabby with several ferry passengers.
But in seemingly just a few eye blinks, we disembarked at Palm Island. There, friendly, young resort employees in crisp white shorts greeted us, stowed our belongings and showed us where to park our car.
No car traffic is permitted within the resort, adding to the isle’s idyllic feel. Instead, we rented golf carts and quickly motored to our unit along crushed-shell roadways.
Golf carts are a best way to get around Palm Island Resort.*
Organized in clusters of low-rise buildings, the spacious units reflected a range of tastes, from beach casual to swanky contemporary. Be specific about your preferences and needs before booking.
For our first girls’ group activity, we took a dip in a few of the resort’s five heated pools. All came with Gulf views and hot tubs. We also tried out one of the 11 hard courts at the championship tennis center.
Kayaking in the pristine waters off Palm Island is a favorite activity.*
Then we were off for a nature experience – renting kayaks for a family-friendly paddling adventure. Fortunately, the water within the Intracoastal Waterway and near the barrier islands was calm, perfect for novice kayakers. Still, the local fish – mullet – were jumping, which created a bit of excitement.
Whenever visitors are hungry, a comfy, on-island Rum Bay restaurant awaits. But the island had only one market for buying snacks and drinks. And it’s a bit pricey. So bring your own groceries or snacks before boarding the ferry.
The Rum Bay restaurant is the island's dining venue.*
Remember, any girls’ weekend is greatly enhanced by late-night treats and chocolate-intensive snacks – prepared in pajamas, of course.
It was difficult to tear ourselves away from combing for sharks’ teeth or hunting sea turtle tracks along Palm Island’s two-mile stretch of white-sand private beach. But on the second day, we headed back to the ferry for some mainland activities.
Charlotte Harbor is the state’s second-largest estuary, encompassing 270 square miles. Bordered with eco-lands and parks, the harbor area boasts 365 miles of canals. Of those, 190 miles are saltwater, the rest freshwater. The region is also home to the largest concentration of pine flatwood forests within southwest Florida.
Our first activity stop was Babcock Wilderness Adventure (800-500-5583 or www.babcockwilderness.com), 8000 State Rd. 31, Punta Gorda. It’s not actually in town, but about 30 miles east of Interstate 75. The Web site has good directions.
After paying $17.95 for per adult and $10.95 for my daughter (kids pricing is for those 3 to 12), headed out for a 90-minute, open-vehicle tour. The ride through the Babcock Ranch, Telegraph Cypress Swamp and 90,000-acre Crescent B Ranch was exhilarating, with plenty of bumps and jostles.
A swamp buggy vehicle at Babcock Wildnerness Adventure offers great views to Florida's wetlands, and often birds and wildlife are spotted along the route.*
A guide offered narration as our vehicle idled to view horses and ornery-looking Florida Cracker cattle raised on the ranch. At the ranch, guests also got a peek at a pair of captive and endangered Florida panthers; they’re a rarity in the wild. White-tailed deer, wild turkeys and big gators are also commonly spotted.
Next was Fisherman’s Village, Punta Gorda, for a cruise operated by the King Fisher Fleet (941-639-0969 or www.kingfisherfleet.com), 1200 W. Retta Esplanade. Cruise trips are priced in the $10 to $25 range, with six options.
Deep-sea fishing excursions start at $140 per person, plus tax, on a split charter, in which you share the boat with other anglers. A private fishing charter runs $700 daily. Check the firm’s Web site for the latest pricing and options.
Our girls’ group opted for a quick, narrated cruise around the waterfront. A suspiciously chipper pod of dolphins tagged along. What do they get out of it, we wondered? That said, we snapped away for our 20th leaping dolphin photo.
For lunch, one option for visitors is the new Boca Bistro (941-964-4443), Island House Inn, 5800 Gasparilla Rd., Boca Grande.
But to save time, we remain in Punta Gorda and sample cuisine at long-time local favorite the Perfect Caper (941-505-9009 or www.theperfectcaper.com). It recently switched locations and is now at 121 E. Marion Ave.
Cerebral and stunning describes owners James and Jeanie Roland’s approach to California-Asian fusion. It’s amazing that this sophisticated, gourmet restaurant operates within such an unpretentious waterside town. Call for lunch and dinner operating days and hours. The restaurant just added a Sunday brunch.
Another reason for sticking around the Punta Gorda area is to visit the Swiss Chocolate shop (941-639-9484), 403 Sullivan St. We stocked up big-time for our Saturday night snacking.
Arriving back on Palm Island after the return ferry ride, energetic visitors might head out for a late-night beach walk or stargazing. Blissfully, we fell asleep listening to the waves and low rustle of undulating sea oats.
The Last Day
Quiet reflection is easy at Palm Island Resort, a peaceful venue that's off the beaten path.*
Famished upon waking, we headed for the ferry again. Once on the mainland, we treated ourselves to a hearty breakfast at Pies & Plates (941-505-7434), Suite 3117, 2310 Tamiami Trail. The little café also does cooking classes – a fun endeavor for the girls.
Then we flexed our muscles with a naturalist-led kayak trip, operated by Grande Tours (941-697-8825 or www.grandetours.com), 12575 Placida Rd., Placida. After an hour of paddling, we had wistful thoughts about other nearby activities.
For example, Punta Gorda has excellent day spas. Among them are Spago Day Spa (941-205-3030), 115 Taylor Rd., and Bisous at the Spa (941-575-6363), 321 Taylor St.
But we decided to save that for our next girls’ weekend within the Charlotte Harbor area.
More Florida Getaway Options
These Florida resorts also make a good base for a Girlfriends’ Getaway. Check the hotels’ Web sites for the latest package offerings.
Amelia Island: Amelia Island Plantation (888-261-6161 or www.ameliaislandplantation.com), 6800 First Coast Hwy.
Key West: SpaTerre at Ocean Key Resort & Spa (800-328-9815 or www.oceankey.com), Zero Duval St.
Longboat Key: Colony Beach & Tennis Resort (941-383-6464 or www.colonybeachresort.com/girls_getaway_package.html), 1620 Gulf of Mexico Dr.
Naples: Lemon Tree Inn (239-262-1414 or www.lemontreeinn.com), 250 Ninth St. South.
Orlando: Rosen Shingle Creek (866-996-9939, www.rosenshinglecreek.com), 9939 Universal Blvd.
Sandestin: Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort (800-622-1038, www.sandestin.com), 9300 Emerald Coast Pkwy West.
Professionally trained as a chef, Laura Reiley spent the first 10 years of her career as a food writer. Since moving to Florida in 2003, Laura has focused more on travel and finding fun things to do with kids: In 2006 her first edition of Moon Handbooks Florida Gulf Coast was published. This year, her Moon Handbooks Orlando is being released.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of Palm Island Resort and Babcock Wilderness Adventure. All rights reserved. Please do not copy nor link to these photos. Thank you.